AWAKE & DREAMING

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

NHL PLAYOFFS - WESTERN

After a blackout season which was lost due to disagreements between the league and the player's union, one would have expected the fans to have resentments towards the NHL teams and stay away. Not to be - the 2005-06 season has seen wonderful attendence and exciting games. Now that the regular season is over, the playoffs will begin on Friday for the Stanley Cup - the toughest trophy to win barr non. I will try to give a review for the playoffs, adding my thoughts on the strengths and weakness of the 16 teams that are linedup for glory in the quaterfinals. The lineups are :
Western Conference Quaterfinals -
(1)Detroit Red Wings vs (8)Edmonton Oilers
(2)Dallas Stars vs (7)Colorado Avalanche
(3)Calgary Flames vs (6)Anaheim Mighty Ducks
(4)Nashville Predators vs (5)San Jose Sharks

WESTERN CONFERENCE

The Red Wings finished the season as the leader in points and winning the President's Trophy. Detroit are a very strong team in all aspects. They have looked formidable all season, despite having a new look with several new names and the fact that pre-season critics were of the opinion that they would fall before the playoffs. From the starting goalie Manny Legace, a player who was the eternal backup for Detroit. Chris Osgoode, Curtis Joseph & Domink Hasek were considered better goalies than Manny and he always was the second choice even being relegated to third choice in 2003-2004 when Hasek returned to Detroit while Joseph was there! But now he is a strong choice in goal with Chris Osgood as the backup. With 5 Swedes who won gold with team Sweden at the Olympics Tomas Holmstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Mikael Samuelsson, Nicklas Lidstrom & Niklas Kronwall and two more, Detroit has become the Swedish team in the NHL with stellar offence from Zetterberg, Holmstrom. Lidstrom, a player who is considered among the very best defencemen, has had yet another fine year which may see him get the top nod for defenceman of the season award. In defence he has ageless 44 year old Chris Chelios & Matheiu Schneider. They also have veteran leadership in the form of 40 year old captain & heart of the team, Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shannahan - who has scored 40 goals for the first time in 6 years - to seal them as the probable favourites. They will be looking to add to their recent wins in 97,98 & 2002. They face the Edmonton Oilers.

The runnerup in the West were the Dallas Stars, champions for the only time in 1999. Despite that they have been consistently solid almost every year and are once again contenders. Lead by American Olympian Mike Modano. They have a strong tandemn in goal with starter Marty Turco being ably backed up by Johan Hedberg. Turco has had a wonderful year with a slight bump in the middle. The defence has shaped up quite nicely considering that they had let stars like Derian Hatcher, Richard Matvichuk & Darryl Sydor leave in the last couple of years. Currently Philippe Boucher, Sergei Zubov & Stephane Robidas anchor a solid defence team that is stingy on letting in goals. Upfront you have plenty of offence starting with Modano, Jere Lehtinen, Jason Arnott, Bill Guerin & Brendan Morrow. They are supported by Stu Barnes, Jussi Jokinen & Niko Kapanen. They face the Colorado Avalanche.

The third seed in the West are the Calgary Flames, who lost on a single goal to the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2003-04. The Flames, like the Stars, have only won the Cup once - in a glorious 1988-89 campaign. For seven years they did not make the playoffs until 2004 and now they have been solid for two season. Finnish star Mikka Kiprusoff has a huge hand in that, becoming one of the elite goalies in a star studded league. He is ably supported by Brian Boucher, who just joined the team in a mid-season trade with the Phoenix Coyotes. A young looking defence is lead by Robyn Regehr along with veteran Rhett Warrener who has been injured all season. But rookie Dion Phaneuf is having a tremendous first season in the league and he is the first NHL rookie defenceman to have 20 goals. Richie Regehr (younger brother of Robyn), Jordan Leopold & Roman Hanrlik are also solid behind the blueline. Upfront, look no further than captain & huge star Jarome Iginla who has had a tough year but will be valuable in the playoffs. Daymond Langkow, Mike Leclerc, Shean Donovan & Tony Amonte will provide further ammunition with enforcing done by Darren McCarty and Chris Simon. They face the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.

Follwing their first playoff apperance in 2003-04 the upstart Nashville Predators though that they best way to build on that would be to bring an established star into the fold. And when they brought in Paul Kariya, the idea seems to have brought rich dividends to the team. The Japanese-Canadian Kariya, for so long the face of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, leads a strong offencive lineup with Mike Sillinger, Yanic Perreault, Steve Sullivan, Scott Hartnell & Martin Erat into the playoffs. No problem in getting goals. In defence Danny Markov leads a squad of not so big names with Ryan Suter & Dan Hamhuis the only other standouts. The worrying factor for Nashville is the fact that they have lost prominent goalie Thomas Vokoun to blood clots. It was his stellar goaltending that sparkled throughout the season. Chris Mason, who has only 40 games experience in the NHL has the hard task of trying to fill in the shoes of the Czech keeper who has been with the Predators since they joined the NHL in 1998. They face the San Jose Sharks.

It was the blockbuster shocking trade of the year that lead to the current hot streak form of the San Jose Sharks. Joe Thorton, considered a franchise player for the Boston Bruins, was traded to San Jose for three players. Certainly the Sharks got the biggest benefits by a mile - they are red hot as they enter the playoffs and Thorton has endedup as the league scoring champ. He is joined by the goal-scoring leader of the season in Johnaton Cheechoo, who scrored 54 goals, 38 of which were setup by Joe. They have the support of Joe's cousin Scott Thornton, Steve Bernier & Nils Ekman along with captain Patrick Marleau. Underrated Scott Hannan, Christian Ehrhoff & Kyle McLaren lead an otherwise lightweight defence team. Meanwhile in goal comes the big change, longtime started Evgeni Nabokov has been replaced by Vesa Toskala. They face Nashville.

Andy McDonald's break-out season has seen the Anaheim Mighty Ducks go in on a strong finish to take the 6th seed in the West. McDonald finshed with 30 goals, 20 more than his previous tally. Teemu Selanne joins him with his best season in recent years and an aching for tasting Stanley Cup glory for the first time. Joffrey Lupul, Todd Fedoruk, Rob Niedermayer & Ryan Getzlaf provide able support among the team's forwards. In defence captain & star Scott Niedermayer leads a strange squad which is rounded out by Fran├žois Beauchemin, who is having a good year & Ruslan Salei. And in goal Jean-Sebastien Giguere is returing back to his wonderful performance in 2002-03, which saw the Ducks just miss out on the Stanley Cup, losing to the Devils. If Gigy gets injured then the Russian Ilya Bryzgalov will take centre stage between the pipes for Anaheim. They face Calgary.

Despite rumours that the 37 year old Joe Sakic may not be given a contract extention with the Colorado Avalanche, the only team he has played for (from when it was the Quebec Nordiques) in his career, the captain is leading his men to the playoffs. This could be the worst performance for the two-time Cup winning Avalanche in recent years. And that stems from the fact that they could'nt replace goalie legend Parick Roy when he retired in 2003. Colorado traded their starter David Aebisher to Montreal for former top NHL goalie Jose Theodore. It remains to be seen if Theodore will retain his top form or will Peter Budaj replace him as the team's number one choice. No problems in defence for the Avalance with Rob Blake, Brett Clark, John-Michael Liles, Kurt Sauer & Patrice Brisebois to block the goal scoring runs. Sakic will be joined upfront by Alex Tanguay, Andrew Brunette, Milan Hejduk & Antti Laaksonen with support from Brett McLean & Ian Laperriere. They really need to get their playing level back to the former heights. They face Dallas.

It is safe to say that the NHL player who plays with more heart than anyone else is Ryan Smyth. Having had accidents & injuries which would have broken a lesser man, Smyth is eager to win the Cup for the first time. He will provide the goals along with Ales Hemsky, Shawn Horcoff & Jarret Stoll. They will be supported by Michael Peca, who brings experience & leadership, Fernando Pisani, Marty Reasoner & the enforcer Georges Laraque. Defence will be anchored by captain Jason Smith, Chris Pronger, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Steve Stois & Jaroslav Spacek. If the Oilers are to advance they will have to get really outstanding goal-keeping from new number one man in between the pipes, Dwayne Roloson. Roloson was acquired in a trade with Minnesotta and has appeared to be near his best at times since. But the Oilers will need much more than that as the 8th seed will be facing the top seeded Detroit.



Song for the day - "Crush Em" - MEGADETH